(CBS/KRQE) ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - After it was first believed to have been stolen, the City of Albuquerque realized a giant $50,000 fiberglass cactus was thrown away by Parks and Recreation Employees.
"There are just layers of tragedy here," said Nan Elsasser, the Executive Director of Working Classroom Inc. "First of all, who would vandalize it and for what purpose. And then who would make this decision to cart off a piece of art and throw it in the dump. That's just unfathomable to me."
Working Classroom Inc. works with at-risk youth artists. They've been involved in many art projects around Albuquerque and created the cactus that was destroyed.
"It's infuriating, it's sad, it's bewildering," Elsasser told CBS affiliate KRQE. "It's a lot of things, none of them good."
The cactus cost taxpayers $50,000. Originally handed out by the state legislature, the money was given to the Albuquerque Public Art Program.
The city gave Working Classroom Inc. the money, which paid for an international artist to spend two months with about a half dozen handpicked kids to create the cactus sculpture. The money paid for the artist, a stipend for the kids and materials.
On Monday, the mayor's office reported the sculpture had been stolen and the city wanted it back. Tuesday morning two Parks and Recreation Department employees admitted to their managers that the sculpture had been hauled off after being vandalized.
"They did not realize that that was a public art project," city spokesman Chris Ramirez said.
Instead of notifying the Public Art Department, the workers contacted the Solid Waste Department and had the artwork taken to the landfill where it was destroyed.
"The sad thing with this is that I don't believe it's beyond restoration," Elsasser said.
"We understand there's been a miscommunication this week," Ramirez said. "We're forming a memo that will go out to every city employee that just reminds them that we have 650 plus art projects around the city of Albuquerque."
Ramirez said the city wants to commission another piece for the park and have Working Classroom Inc. create it. No word on how it will be paid for.
"You can't recreate a piece of art," Elsassor said. "It's gone."